Larks and Robins

PCDC’s Portland Contra dances use the gender-free dance role terms “Larks and Robins.” (Larks are on the Left, Robins are on the Right when you take hands four improper and after a swing.)

Why gender-free?

Even before we switched to non-gendered calling terms, Portland Contra community members were welcome to (and did) dance any role they liked and to dance with partners of any gender they wished, and we realized that our former gendered terms (“Gents and Ladies”) often felt inaccurate, and often confused other dancers. So as of April 2022, we are using gender-free role terms at all of our dances.

Many contra dance groups and dance events across North America have moved or are moving to gender-free dance role terms. Reasons for going gender-free include:

  • We often hear that the terms “Gents and Ladies” are just roles and anyone can dance any role, but they sure sound gendered. For people whose gender doesn’t match the role they want to dance, this can be actively off-putting.
  • People can choose the role that is more comfortable for them (for example, due to physical limitations or personal preference), or can dance both roles freely, without the worry that someone will tell them they’re in the wrong place and try to “fix” the “error.”
  • People can choose to dance with any other person on the floor, eliminating the problem of having “extra” people of one gender who have to sit out a dance.
  • “Gents and Ladies” is unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ dancers because those terms come with gendered and heterosexual associations/expectations. We want to be welcoming to everyone.

I only want to dance one role. Is that okay? How do I know who dances the other role?

If you want to dance only the left-hand (Lark) role, for example, you certainly can. Just ask your prospective partners whether they dance the Robin role. (If they say no, thank them graciously and look for someone else. If they say yes, great! While you’re at it, ask how fast they like to swing, and whether they like twirls. We’re all about consent at PCDC!) During the dance, notice the people who are your opposite-role neighbours and ask them to dance next time.

How do I know if my neighbours are in the wrong spot if I can’t tell by their gender presentation?

If they look confused, you could ask if they’re dancing Lark or Robin. Or, just keep dancing – even if they have accidentally switched roles, they will automatically switch back at the next partner swing without disrupting the flow of the dance.

Why this particular set of gender-free terms?

“Larks and Robins” is the most frequently-used set of gender-free role terms in contra dance communities across North America. Many callers and dancers have already adjusted to these terms, and learning a different set for each city would be difficult.

Who else is using “Larks and Robins”?

Many dance series (monthly/weekly) across North America have made the switch or use those terms at least some of the time. Here is a mostly up-to-date list of the dance series that use gender-free role terms (almost all are using “Larks and Robins”):

An increasing number of dance weekends and week-long dance camps are also gender-free. Here’s an up-to-date list:

What if I’ve only ever danced to “Gents and Ladies”?

Welcome!!! We are delighted to have you here!!! We find that people find it a little challenging at first, but catch on very quickly (usually getting pretty comfortable the first evening they try it). Remember to “dance with who’s coming at you” and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Meanwhile, we are a friendly, cheerful group, and we will laugh along with you while you are getting your bearings!